I always laugh whenever I hear “money can’t buy happiness.” While that may be true, money certainly can’t hurt! Money makes the world go round, and whether you love it, hate it, or don’t really care, I doubt there are many people who would lock their doors when Publisher’s Clearing House comes knocking. 

Why do you want to work for us? 

For the fat paycheck. 

No one would ever say this during a job interview, but in the business world, there is an unspoken understanding that money drives our goals, hard work, and ambition. Yes, money doesn’t buy the non-artificial loyalty of a real friend, or people-connecting experiences, or the joy of raising a family. But when these things are made better (and easier) by money, a special quality enters your life–not that I speak from experience (I am a 20-year-old attending American public college, which is anything but free).

Social classes defined by status and wealth still exist–and they always will. And who is the greatest perpetrator of reminding us of where we stand on that social hierarchy, of what we don’t have, and of what we are doing wrong?

Social media–specifically (at least for me), Instagram. 

Yes, I am aware of how artificial Instagram is. No one is posting pics of their eviction notices or job rejection letters; Instagram is one big competition to see who can brag the most. 

And what’s there to brag about if you’re not flaunting a shiny new Maserati in the driveway, or your vacation in the Maldives, or a selfie with the latest, yet-to-be-released Gucci bag? 

In the caption under these posts always lurks something like #riseandgrind or #hustle, as if these culture trends guarantee the kind of success glorified in the post. But I already know that the rise and grind culture is a lie and, despite knowing all this, these captions get to me every time. 

What’s their secret? What are they doing that I am not? There are so many people who are younger than I but are more successful. I am almost two years older than Youtuber Emma Chamberlain, who gets invited to Paris Fashion Week every year. Is she a harder worker than me? Am I lazy? Am I doing something wrong? 

I am not alone in these thoughts. Studies have shown that the pressure to become successful after college affects mental health. This is amplified when young people are bombarded with the success stories of people their age on Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and other platforms that allow the rich to flaunt their lifestyles to people who want in. 

Do these unrealistic expectations drive ambition? Or do they promote depression when unattainable goals are not immediately met? 

What makes this pressure even more anxiety-inducing is how expensive it is to get a degree, move out of the house, and get your foot in the door–all for just an entry-level job. The real work only just begins after college, and you’re already drowning in debt when you don’t even have a house yet. The entry-level job certainly won’t make a dent. 

What were these pressures like for our parents’ generation? 

Get rewarded for everyday activity. $10 sign on bonus.

In the past, the stigma behind success is that it comes later in life, when you are older, when you have hustled at the right pace, and took your blows when you were young. Today, that concept has been tossed out the window with all the young, new money sparkling across the Internet. Despite this, the ability to make more money than your parents has declined since 1940 (as of a 2018 Brookings Institution study), making the pressure to be successful all the more suffocating. 

Getting laid off during the pandemic certainly didn’t help, and only contributed to the feeling of being stuck, of a rut being thrown into your momentum, of a general feeling of helplessness to prevail among the younger generation trying to make a name for themselves. 

This pressure, and unrealistic success expectations when you are young, is not exclusive to 2021. Our parents lived through the inflation crisis of the 1970s, the housing market crash in 2008, and now a pandemic economy. The point of remembering all this? You are not alone. Of course, the cost of living in the 70s and 80s is nothing compared to what it is today. In 1980, the minimum wage was $3.10. In 1970, paying a $108 monthly rent (including utilities) was outlandish (it was more than what half of U.S. families paid). 

In high school, I was naive and had yet to decide what I wanted to do in life, yet I still found solace in Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 book, Outliers: The Story of Success. The book taught me the value of real expectations behind success (not the unattainable glitter you’ll find on Instagram). 

Gladwell explains that while you need 1,000 hours of input to be an expert at something (my interpretation: to be successful), most of the time success depends on upbringing, life experiences, outlook, and sheer, simple luck. 

“When and where you are born, what your parents did for a living, and what the circumstances of your upbringing were make [sic] a significant difference in how well you do in the world,” Gladwell writes. It was an important quote for me in high school, and it’s just as relevant now in my 20s. 

So whenever I scroll through Instagram and start to think, God, what am I doing with my life? I remember that success has less to do with status, image, or how many vacations I take a year. It’s about feeling fulfilled on the inside, because when you are doing the best you can do in some pretty dismal circumstances, all the while maintaining your mental, emotional, and spiritual health, some things are simply out of your control. 

And when you realize that, you might just find a little peace. 

Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter!

  • Laurie Melchionne

    Laurie Melchionne is the editor in chief at The Argo, Stockton University's independent student newspaper. Laurie majors in Literature with a double minor in Journalism and Digital Literacy/Multimedia Design. With a concentration in creative writing, Laurie loves all things editorial and communications, and believes in people sharing their voices through the written word.